Friday, March 31, 2006

Shout out...

Quick shout out as the weekend approaches:

Regular participant Kathi got her bib number for Ironman Arizona (coming up next weekend!!!!!) - number 2129! Whoohoo! Very cool Kathi, I'll be out of town next weekend, but will be sure to follow your progress at Ironmanlive whenever I'm around a computer -

Sister-in-law Iris is running the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run in D.C. this Saturday - go #12072...

Good friend Alison is in full on taper for the Boston Marathon, coming up on April 17th...number 13158...

Steady on everybody - try to check in and let me know how it's all going for you if you think about it. May the wind be at your backs!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The week (so far) in review...

It's been a good and tiring week. I've been up around 6:00 each morning for a morning workout, then an afternoon workout. I know this is unremarkable to most people who get up and brave a commute every morning, but I am not a morning person, so it takes some adjusting. Swimming in the AM on Monday and Wedesdays (although yesterday, because of work, I actually ran during my lunch hour and then swam in the afternoon) and Fridays, then weights Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Monday and Wednesday and Friday afternoons are running, and Tuesdays and Thursdays are on the bike. Saturday is my long bike, followed by a short but meaningful run. The volume will quickly increase on the bike - 2 weekends from this I'm already up to a 3 hour ride.

A few interesting bits:

Closed Circuit to elderly ladies at the pool: I get it, that you think trouncing around in a weird little hopping walk down the lanes is useful for you. I get that you get together and talk for an hour while you sort of meander around "water walking". Good for you, good luck with that. If you see me swimming in a lane, though, then that means you can't walk in that lane. You'll have to wait like the rest of us when the lanes are full. Because even though you try and hide against the wall when I swim by, see, the lanes aren't wide enough for both of us. And since I've been here for 15 minutes, you'll have to wait your turn. But if, I don't know, you have some schedule to keep that will only allow you this precise window in the time space continuom to do your water hopping, and by order of the prime minister you must do it in my lane, then I'm going to have to INSIST that you take a shower like the rest of us before you get in the water. Because if I can taste your Avon perfume when you glide by, then you're wearing too much. And I don't really want to swim through the chemical spill trailing behind you if that's okay. Eats through my goggles. So if you could look into that, that would be super.

I had my Anaerobic Threshold tested again yesterday, and what's most interesting is this surprising and not entirely encouraging bit: I am burning zero fat calories as I approach my AT heartrate of 164. Zero. Let's recap: Your body has two sources of fuel - fat and sugar (glucose). There is an almost unlimited supply of fat in even the leanest of bodies, but only about 2000 calories or so of glucose. Fat is a really slow burning fuel, and glucose is a really fast burning fuel. Each of us burns fat with different efficiency, and your Anaerobic Theshold is that place where you stop burning fat, and start burning sugar. So for me, around 164. I tend to spend most of my training runs between 155 and 170 or so. Because of that I've conditioned my body to burn sugar a bit more slowly, but I'm still burning sugar. I burn fat really efficiently in my lower zones - say, 125 bpm or lower, but I hardly ever spend time that low when I'm working out (it feels...counter productive. It's so slow!). I'm incredibly inefficient burning fat at my upper heart rates zones, where I like to train. If I were just doing Olympic triathlons, or even were just a marathon runner, this wouldn't be a huge deal. But I'm not - I need to burn 15 hours of fuel, not 2 hours. It is imperative that I train my body to burn fat at higher heart rates. Ideally, you want to be highly efficient at burning fat as close as possible to your AT, so that when in those higher heart rates that I like to be in, you're slowly burning from your unlimited supply, rather than quickly burning through your glucose supply. So, I have work to do. Luckily it's pretty (physically) easy work - I need to spend a lot more time in my low heart rate zones, burning more fat. The more time I spend there, the more efficient I'll become, and then those zones will start to climb and I'll get more efficient in higher zones. So yesterday I spent 45 minutes "running" 3 miles. It takes a different sort of discipline to go that slow, but it's critical. So probably twice a week I'll crawl along like that, for the next several weeks or so. And once or twice a week I'll run normally. Same with the bike - I need to be disciplined right now to spend time in lower heart rate zones, and not so concerned with speed or even efficiency.

Anyway, that's the update for now. Soon time to head out on the bike before coming back to work tonight.

Closed Circuit to Todd...

(The rest of you are free to listen in...)

For those of you just joining us, Todd is training for his first ever Sprint triathlon. A "B" race in early June, and his "A" race is the Lifetime Fitness triathlon on July 15th. Todd has informed me that he has hit the proverbial wall.

Coupla things: In my experience, the body has its way of telling you what it needs you to know. It will give you subtle hints, which you should listen to (I'm only learning to), and if you don't listen, it will force you to with an injury or illness. In general, if you find yourself hurt, sick, or totally unenthusiastic about training, it can be your body's way of telling you to slow down. It's likely that you're overtrained. What was your schedule like before you took 2 weeks off? At the end of those two weeks were you really excited to back into it, or were you totally dreading it? Are you having fun, or are experiencing a slowness in your progress that's discouraging you?

It's said (and I believe it) that it's better to be 10% undertrained than 1% overtrained. Especially for a Sprint that's still 3 months away, your goals right now should be general fitness and acclimation to the 3 disciplines. You might look at combining more cross training into your schedule right now - play hoops for an hour instead of that hour run. Instead of a 3 mile run, do just a mile. Ride your bike 3 times this week where you would normally drive (to Target or the grocery store or somewhere else nearby). Always remember that something is better than nothing. Reward yourself for successful workouts - swim just 500 yards, then reward yourself with the hut tub. If you need to mentally "take a break" from training, feel entitled to do that - you have plenty of time right now to reorganize a bit. But try not to physically take a break, even if you're not doing organized triathlon training.

I'm not surprised your run was crap...if you took 2 weeks off, you lost fitness. If you spent any of those two weeks eating hot wings and drinking beer, then your body quickly re-acclimated to some bad but addicting nutrition, and you'll have to re-establish some of your expectations for your body. The good news is, if you were reasonably fit before, you'll come back around really quickly. Be patient with yourself, and take small steps to keep pushing through this - it will pass, I promise (I've been there). See this as a mini-contest within your larger contest. If you keep going, even when it's tough right now, you will feel amazing personal rewards, physically and mentally. If you quit now, then you'll have to make peace with that.

Consider: If a person were to do almost no exercise, it would take about a week of (healthy) nutritional sacrifices to burn 3500 calories - one pound. It takes me about 6 hours on the bike to burn 3500 calories. But to take in 3500 calories would take me about 7 minutes at McDonalds. You're right dude - this is not the easy path. This is the path few take (as evidenced by our national obesity epidemic. Wrap your mind around that for a minute. We have an Epidemic. Of. Obesity.), and it's not meant to be easy. Nothing worthwhile is, you know that. Whenever I drive by McDonalds, I try to think to myself - be part of the solution, not part of the problem. SO much easier to drive through and get a big fat Strawberry shake. So much better to get a Diet Coke. So much better than that to get an ice water.

I am not a machine. The only thing that makes me at all unique here is that I've chosen to do it. Anybody can do this stuff. It just requires time and discipline. So my advice:
Consider your two weeks your vacation. Now school is back in session, but everybody knows that the first few weeks of school nothing much happens. Take it light and slow for the next two weeks. Look for the fun in your training again. Even if you're not entirely excited about it (as long as you're not sick or injured), then keep plugging through this rough patch until you're past it. If your nutrition is out of whack, realign right away - the longer you eat crap, the more addicting it becomes and the harder it is to quit. Most importantly, break your goals here down. If you think "I have to be in great shape for a triathlon", it can feel overwhelming. Think weekly goals - "I want to do x amount of running, x amount on the bike, and x swimming (or whatever - x basketball games, x jumproping, x less hours in front of the tv, whatever). Do whatever you can to achieve those goals, so be realistic with them in the first place. Then make daily goals. "I want to get a good night's sleep tonight." "I want to make sure I get my run in later". Finally, see your day as a series of choices that you alone control. You can wake up and either have Count Chocula for breakfast, or a bowl of oatmeal. You can either drink a Mountain Dew, or have an ice water. You can go for the value meal at lunch, or skip the fries (or better yet, have a salad). You can stay out late all weekend and eat and drink crap (and so your most meaningful training days will suffer), or you can choose to only go out one night, and stay in the other. Whatever it is in your universe, try to make more good decisions than bad decisions. Try and be disciplined. Pretty soon, your systems will be firing again, and you'll have that one great run that will give you confidence and excitement to do it again, or you'll see 2 less pounds on the scale and feel like the work was worth it, and you'll be back on the metaphorical and literal bicycle.

My two cents. Good luck dude. Let me know if you want to work out sometime or if there's anything I can do to help you out.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Ol' Blue Rides Again

I feel great after my 4 days of rest. Refreshed, revived. Like a soap commercial. The muscle tension in my right calf is gone entirely, staying with me about 36 hours or so after Wednesday's run. I'll run tomorrow, as scheduled, but I'll watch it carefully - at the first sign of anything, I'll stop and take the week off. Since my training starts shifts tomorrow, away from the distance and run-centric base training, I actually go "backwards" a little, and have some lighter workouts. It should work to my advantage with the leg. Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays are now two-a-days (like Coyote football in the day, holla!) - swimming bright and early in the AM (I have never been an AM guy for working out ever before, so this should be a grand experiment), and running in the afternoons. Tuesdays and Thursdays are on the bike, and Saturday (or Sunday, if I feel like switching them up) are my "long" days, with a bike followed by a run. For the first 2-3 months, I'm "training to train" - getting all systems organized for productive "train to race" training starting in June.

New compact crankset on the bike, giving me more gears for the hills in Wisconsin. I'll look forward to the workouts in Madison coming up to really appreciate it. Yesterday was remarkable in that, finally and at long last, I was outside on my bike. Pretty cold - 40 degrees, and with the wind on the bike bike I was bundled up, but man it felt so great. Just a short 10 mile out and back, to make sure all the new systems were in go status for the week and training ahead - new cables, new chain, new crankset, new fit, new tires, etc. etc. - and all seemed well. I can't wait for it to warm up so I can go out without arctic gear on, but man...there is NOTHING in the universe like being on a bike. I'll get pics up of the refreshed Ol' Blue up soon.

So, much to of power meters and measurements on the bike, of form and technique in the water and on the run, and where all things go from here. For now, I'm off to pack up my swim gear for the AM and head to bed - still reeling from another brilliant Sopranos. Soon!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Sorry for the hassle...

The spammers are infiltrating the system, leaving annoying comments to make extra money, increase the size of things, get drugs, etc. I've turned on comment verification, so from here on out, in the event that you want to leave a comment, you'l have to quickly input the letters you see on the screen. Nothing major, nothing you haven't seen or done before, but just another hoop to jump through in modern online society. Hope nobody's discouraged from saying hello.

An End of A Beginning (also file under: Long Run Gone Awry)

I was scheduled for a 15k run yesterday - 9.3 miles. I'd had a solid week of rest after last week's grueling 13.5 miler, and I was looking forward all day to getting out and doing my run. I've had such consistent improvement week after week after week that I was curious what this week held. As it is, I fought the run and the run won.

My first 4 miles felt great. Better than great. I was cruising so easily, and so fast (around 8:00 pace) that I wondered for a minute if my watch had gone haywire. I pulled back on the horses to at last an 8:30 pace, thinking I'd run my first 1/2 hour between that and 8:45, then speed up a notch for my 2nd half hour, and then blaze in victoriously on my last few miles. My legs felt good - my left calf felt totally fine, and my right one had a bit of the tightness I experienced all week, but nothing at all like the screaming tantrum I was dealing with from my calves last week.

All was well until about mile 4.5 or so, when I started to suddenly feel a little low on energy. This was a complete mystery - I didn't change at all my pre-run nutrition habits that have worked so well this entire base training season. I felt low on fuel and started slowing up a bit. So I took in a gel - nutrition 20 minutes earlier than I'd expected to - and that revived me after another quarter mile or so. But by the time I got to about 5.5 miles, just over halfway, my pace was slowing significantly, and my right calf was feeling more and more tight. It wasn't making legs were feeling heavy where just a few miles before they were light. And this short into the run...and this short of a distance anyway.

At mile 6 I decided to stop and walk .15 miles. Early in the season, and my past and then-existing race plans, had me walking every 2-3 miles. As I've become stronger and better educated, I've abandoned that whole idea, and now there are no plans to walk, ever. There is too much time lost walking, and if it becomes part of a structure, later in the race - as I know from last year's Half IM and Marathon - it becomes too easy to justify "only a little further before I run", and then it's harder to get going again. So now, walking is strictly a tactic, and not a survival technique. If I walk in a race (obviously, barring a melt down that requires it), it's because walking 2 minutes now might save me 30 minutes down the road. It's intentional and strategic. In training, I walk all the time - my workouts are broken up in ways that require that kind of rest. But today's workout was not to have walking, so this was a strategic decision - if I could walk just a bit, regroup some, I might be able to straighten up and finish these last 3 miles strong.

So I walked a bit, then picked it back up, but just never felt strong again, and my right calf was getting tighter and tighter. I felt weak for some reason, and slow. The slowness is related to the weakness, and it's all about nutrition - if you fade at the end of a workout, you weren't well fortified going in.

At mile 7.5 my right calf whispered a new kind of pain, a concerning kind. Nothing dramatic, just a gentle stretch that wasn't consistent with the muscle soreness I'd been experiencing. I immediately pulled up to walk, and had a talk with myself. Normally, however miserable I am, I finish what's to be finished. If I have to walk there. If my pace is so slow that little children and grandmothers are passing me. But finishing, a workout or a race, is critical. But something was off today, and particularly now with my leg, I needed to have the discipline to know that these 1.8 miles left does not matter in my long run (pun always intended). That I'm a total idiot if I allow myself some kind of injury for no reason at all here. That it's a long, long, long triathlon season.

So, I turned around and walked back to my car.

I had about 2 miles of walking to cool down and stretch, and really get some perspective. Training is full of peaks and plateaus, and the more fit you get, the less dramatic your results will seem - early on you're making pace improvements of half a minute, but as you get more fine tuned, those improvements will shrink, until they're hard to come by at all. I've had some 12 weeks of nothing but improvement, and I had been expecting some kind of correction like this for a few weeks - though I didn't think that, and don't know why, my nutrition would be part of it. Most importantly, I'd been undisciplined, and lost sight of my big picture for the euphoria of "another great run". This is base training. The whole point of training with snow on the ground is just to develop a solid aerobic base so that when "real" training begins, the body is ready. I chose to develop that base around my biggest limiter - the run. And my whole goal with that was to improve my running, so that I wouldn't be subject to such major meltdowns in races. Lately I've been too attendant to my pace - pushing my pace faster, pushing myself harder, having a better time than last week, and the week before. Some of that is good and useful and appropriate, but not the level I've been thoughtful about it. I've been working too hard for no reasonable reason; whatever pace I train at, or even run a running race at, has little practical application to what will happen in the midst of a triathlon. It's been good to be this focused on running, and good to work towards these improvements. But I've already accomplished my base training goals. I'm in great shape. I'm mentally and physically ready to start harder training. I've improved my running. Period. I lost sight of my big picture - this 9.3 mile hard training run will not impact my race in September...and in fact my perspective should have been to do this 9.3 miles slow and easy, at a comfortable pace that was far easier than where I was running it. Were I exclusively a marathon runner, or the whole point of my existence was this Half Marathon in April, then it would be a different conversation. But I'm a triathlete, and this is the time for laying small brick upon small brick upon small brick, and not moving large stones. I allowed that to escape me. It's a foolish and critical error, because there are no small errors in Ironman. It's this kind of error that leads to burn out and injury.

This morning my right calf remains sore. I think I slightly strained the muscle - it's not black and blue, so there is no bleeding to indicate a tear, and I have full motion and can move around fine, with just a tinge of discomfort. Nothing to obsess about, but I am going to ice it a lot and rest for the next several days. I can't afford any kind of injury this early in the game.

So, I regroup: I declare my base training officially over. Starting Monday, I'm scheduled for full on Ironman training. I'm going to rest until then - no running whatsoever, and maybe only some light swimming. I'll spend a lot of mental energy studying some tactics, techniques, and reviewing my strategies - particularly nutritionally. Next week, I may not run at all, or maybe just in the pool, giving my leg plenty of time to heal up. My long runs from now on are going to be long and slow - I'm going to start at a very easy pace and build only when it's sensible to and my body wants to; though now that I get into IM specific training, I kind of start back back at square one with runs no longer than 45 minutes to an hour, and lots of drills in the first month. I don't care anymore about pace, except where my training indicates pace-specific workouts. The 13 mile race on April 15th may be my next "long run", and is utterly unimportant, and I'll approach it as a completely educational experience and a small step to larger goals - it is not a goal in itself. And if for any reason my leg isn't 100% before or during that race, I'll have no problem stopping. Got to think big picture here.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Bits & Pieces

Well, I was out for an intervals run yesterday, and 5 easy miles today. I've been stretching my calves a lot, and was pretty happy that some 48 hours after I couldn't even walk I was back out running, not really worse for the wear. I've been intentional to stop and walk and stretch, but my legs have felt strong underneath me, and while they're still a bit sore, my calves are coming right around. They should be well enough strengthened for my long run next week, I'd think. Not a great run today - had my first pseudo bonk about 3 fast miles in on what was supposed to be just 5 lazy miles. My legs felt good, but I think because I ran mid-day, instead of afternoon as I usually do, my nutrition wasn't up to par, and I didn't have the fuel to take me there. I'll have to make that kind of adjustment for my weekend runs/rides, and be more attentive to it.

Meanwhile, some new shoes (already??? Geez, a few hundred miles flies by in a hurry...) - I always feel a little bad for the shoe store guys, because when I walk in a seriously grab, like, 8 different shoes, and ask them for size 12s. So they (usually after getting help) bring me box after box while I try on shoe after shoe, comparing to my current running shoes. My Motos have been good shoes, but I've felt some cushioning go out in the last week or so - I can really hear my footfalls, and my feet feel like I'm slapping them on pavement. So, on the hunt. I actually tried the hyped Air Max 360, but alas, they are built too narrow for my flippers. So I tried several of everything today, from Nike to Adidas to Brooks to Adidas and finally, on a lark, these Asics. I haven't owned Asics since, like, the 7th grade when the company was still called Tiger. But I was really impressed - they are extremely comfortable, and seem to be well cushioned, especially in the forefoot, which is important to me. No problems with them on the run today, so they might be good ones. I'm yet to find, after 2.5 years, "my shoe" - that one she that I swear by. Maybe these will be it - I've always believed there's something to be said for a company that does one thing, and only one thing - it's why I like Martin guitars, why I have Michelins on my bike, and maybe Asics - free of the distractions of basketball shoes, cool kid shoes, baseball shoes, curling shoes, shoes for that wanker Bode Miller - will be that company for me, since all they do is make running shoes.

Now, off to spend some "online training" - stuff I've meant to get to all week, like researching a compact crank for my bike, what Orca has happening for triathlon gear, and see what's been happening at TriFuel and Crucible Fitness. Hope one and all are having a great weekend.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

To The Edge

What an interesting experience last night. I was reviewing my training schedule, and I had - as I usually do - built in a week extra for injury or sickness. At this point in the training for the race on the 15th - which marks the end of my base training - injury or sickness isn't going to matter; that extra week I built in won't be worth much, because I won't be healed anyway.

I have in my training a handful of scheduled Breakthrough workouts. These are workouts/weekends that are designed to push me farther than my training has up to that point - if I've been running 2 miles, then 3, then 4, my Breakthrough might suddenly shoot up to 7 before returning to 5 the next week. It's purposes are several; it's meant to be a kind of catalyst for fitness, taking me from point A to point C more quickly, so that when I return to B, it's an easier road. It's also meant to build some mental toughness - Ironman is going to hurt. There are going to be some low, low points in the race where I feel horrible, where I'm mentally exhausted, and where all I'll want to do is lie by the side of the road and throw up and sleep. Breakthrough workouts like this push the limits of some of that discomfort, helping to build toughness and confidence. This is an area I need work on - not the discomfort part, particularly, but the mental part - when I get tired, I tend to mentally drift, and the second I do I start to slow down and demonstrate poor form, and when I snap out of it I have to spend that much more energy correcting myself. This has been a problem for me on the bike last season, too, so it will be a point of concern all season. Lastly, I don't know if this is true of everybody - maybe some of the other runners out there can chime in, but if I know I'm running 10 miles that day, my whole system is conditioned for it, so that by mile 9.7, if you said "oh wait, go another 2 miles", I think you'd notice a steep decline in my performance those last 2 miles. Mentally I have expectations, and I impose those on my body, and there is usually a calculable sum to that equation for me. This is another area of work for me - flexibility, to handle whatever situations happen to me at IM with grace and efficiency, and not suffer any mental breakdowns that translate to or influence physical ones along the way.

So yesterday, I was scheduled for a 15k run - about 9.3 miles, just shy of the 10 I did last week, before I bump back up to 11 next week. This was a perfect time, then, to input a breakthrough workout, bumping to next week the 9.3 mile run and this week, which is naturally a recovery week in my training schedule, to recover from this BT workout. Since I'll soon stop running according to mileage and run according to length of time, I decided on a 2 hour run. When I'm in full on IM training, the most I'll ever run is 2.5 to 3 hours, so this length serves as a good benchmark, as well as a good bump to the end of my base training (by the way, I did a lot of research before making this decision, I didn't just make it up out of thin air or something). My goal for the run was simple; don't slow down. Find a pace that's manageable and stay there. If anything, speed up a bit. But if I slow down, then my pace was too hot to begin with, and I haven't been paying attention the last 12 weeks.

My longest run to this point, the 10 mile, took me about 1:27:00. So this would be more than 30 minutes longer than that, which should translate to something over 3 miles if I'm doing things right. Remembering how quickly I faded on mile 10 last time (this goes back to the mental expectations governing physical performance), I knew this would be a significant workout for me. I was also interested in further testing my new nutritional strategies for this, now a significant length of time.

I decided to keep "laps" at 30 minute intervals - so instead of keeping track of my pace mile to mile, I'd keep big chunks of information every 30 minutes. That would give me a more general, and so useful portrayal of my performance.

The last several workouts I've been really attentive to my form, and working on making some dramatic changes feel more natural. The most significant of these is landing with my footfall on the ball of my foot, rather than with a hard heel strike. I can get into all the boring science why if you want another time, but it's a more efficient and faster way to run. It utilizes the highly elastic calf muscles in ways totally unfamiliar to my body, so my calves have been really, really sore the last week or so - not injured, but sore like how a muscle is sore after lifting weights for the first time. A lot of lactic acid build up, and a general soreness and sensitivity to using new muscles, or using muscles in unfamiliar ways. Until the calf muscles get stronger, I'm just going to have to deal with that, and I can't just stop running because it's a little uncomfortable.

So I start my run, and I struggle to find my pace. I kept wanting to go faster - 8:30 or so, and I knew I couldn't sustain that and not slow down later. So I'd intentionally slow down, and inevitably slow too much, until I'd be around 9:30 or something. Finally I settled in around 9:00 or 9:15, sometimes spiking faster, sometimes a bit slower. I figured something around a 9:00 pace would be sustainable for me for the duration. My nutrition strategy was simple - I loaded up with a Clif bar and PB&J (God's nectar) about an hour before the run, sipped on Gatorade on the way to my run, and once on the run took a shot of water every 10 minutes for the first hour. After that I'd take a shot of my InfinIT mix every 10 minutes. I had a gel with me for emergencies. So I trotted happily along, looking forward to my 10 minute intervals.

By about mile 1.5, not 15 minutes into my 2 hour run, my calves started screaming at me. Every footfall was sinister. I found myself becoming occupied with them. Are they in danger? Should I stop? Will I pull or tear a muscle? Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. This was my first of several Come To Jesus meetings, as my sister would say, that I had with myself. I had to tell myself to relax. That those muscles are highly elastic, that they are by nature freakishly strong, and that they aren't going to tear. They're just sore, but it's not a stop the car sore. I had to tell myself to get over it, stop obsessing about it, and run. I had to be especially mindful that I wasn't altering my form to compensate for the pain, putting myself at risk for some kind of secondary injury.

So through my first lap, I was at exactly a 9:00/mile pace. From the knee up, my legs felt great. I felt strong and well fueled, and my heart rate was really low. All ingredients for success. I can't help but wonder, were it not for my really painful calves, how things would have been going. I'm sure they slowed me down some, at least mentally.

About a mile into my second lap (second half hour), I decided to stop by a tree and stretch my calves. Each felt like they had a charley horse in them, and there was nothing I could do to massage or stretch them away. I decided to let my watch run during this 45 seconds or minute - I stop the watch at traffic lights, but this kind of thing is part of the deal. Not counting it isn't fair. I continued, and finally found a rhythm about 5 miles in or so. I found that shortening my stride and increasing my cadence - my leg turnover - put less stress on my calves in my footfall. Every once in awhile I digressed to my "old" form, to see if there was any relief, and to compare the old and new ways - flat foot directly underneath me instead of on the ball of my foot, and immediately I was sensitive to how lurching it felt, how hard on my knees it felt, and how quickly I slowed down, even with the same cadence I had before. So I'd jump back to correct form and cope.

My second lap clocked me at around a 9:15/mile pace, which isn't entirely accurate because of the time I spent stretching, but it counts. Now my effort was more intentional. It was a little more work to have to keep my 9:00 pace. Not a lot - my heart rate didn't climb past 160 at all, but I was no longer in danger of the spikes to 8:30/min or so. My calves were electric. I found myself not picking my foot up enough - kind of running INTO my footfall, instead of running on top of my footfall. This is poor form and horribly inefficient - in essence it's go - stop - go - stop with every stride. My mind was starting to wander. I'd check my pace, see it was strong, and start to daydream. When I'd snap out of it I'd be a full 20 or 30 seconds slower than I was a moment ago. I started having to focus on focusing. Intentionally attending to my form; short strides, quick footfall, leaning slightly forward at the feet, not at the waist. Head up high. Arms pumping, knee driving forward. Then I'd get sloppy again and my head would fall, I'd no longer be leaning forward, my arms would just kind of move with my body, instead of my own volition. Snap out of it, back to form. This was my constant battle through my second lap. The mental energy spent on my calves was fatiguing me, and it was still early in the run, and it was pissing me off.

Into my third lap, and I'm now more than an hour into the run, and past the halfway pint. If my calves were going to blow, they would have by now, so I stopped obsessing about what might be. At about mile 9.5, my system called for a meeting and my body made the motion that it's getting dark, and are those snowflakes?, and one thing nobody's mentioned today is that it's ASS cold outside right now, and 1.5 hours is nothing to sneeze at and that will get us to 10 miles, and let's just call it a day. We'll still have done more than the schedule said today, and nobody can say we didn't have a hard, strong run. My calves, in shrieking unison, seconded the motion. A vote was called, and then my mind made an impassioned speech about how this is Ironman, dammit, and nobody said it was going to be easy, and it's not SUPPOSED to be easy, and you jerks better buck up and deal because We. Are. Not. Stopping. In fact, we're going faster. So shut the hell up. So while my mind gave the order to the engine room to finish strong, my calves whispered bad things to each other about how my mind thinks it knows everything and who put it in charge anyway and one heard it has ADD and the other said it wouldn't be surprised at all and I took another swig from my flask and headed into my last half hour.

I passed my 10 without knowing it, and with no fanfare. Back to the mental game - if my goal isn't 10 miles, then 10 miles isn't too important. My first mile into my final 30 minutes went really well. I comfortably clocked along at around an 8:40 pace or so. My leg turnover was high, and my calves could go to hell. Now things seems attainable; I passed the hour and 40 minute mark and thought - 20 more minutes is nothing. No problem. Then I checked my watch and somehow had slowed dramatically, more than a minute or more. I had reached that place, familiar from the marathon, where my body's response mechanisms were no longer accurate; I felt fast when I wasn't. I found myself landing gingerly on my calves, somehow trying to get around having to use my feet while running. Alas, I didn't find a way. I found a landmark up the road, focused on it in the dim street lights - it has been dark more than a half hour now - and kept it in sight while I corrected my form. My goal from here on out would be perfect form, and I'd use these landmarks as my goal posts. I wouldn't check my pace or time until I hit the landmark, and would spend the space in between focused on form.

Finally I finished. In fact, I went about 30 seconds long, because that's where the next landmark took me. I ran about 13.5 miles. My finishing pace was exactly 9:00/mile.

When I slowed to cool down and walk back to the car, I could hardly walk my calves were so painful and tight. My legs felt alien, and every subtle movement was sensitive and new. The snowy sleety stuff started to fall harder, like it was just waiting for me to finish my run and then it would start up hard. And as I cooled down, no longer warmed by activity or perspiration, I was really, really cold. Not outer cold, like wind on my face, but inner cold.

By the time I got home, I was shaking like I had some kind of palsy. Violent, dramatic shaky, like I'm on tv or something. My legs hurt so bad I could hardly climb the stairs. I got into the bathroom and had to remove these layers of lycra, no easy task under the circumstances. My teeth were rattling. I turned the shower on hot, made it in, and sat right down. I let the water warm me up, and continued to tell myself to settle down, settle down, settle down.

It was a weird night. Amy got me some warm clothes and brought me some warm dinner while I wrapped myself under the covers in bed. I felt feverish without being sick. I asked her to bring up a rolling pin, which she thought was weird, but I needed to, as quickly as I could, massage my calves then and there, and a rolling pin is a great way to isolate and massage the strands of muscles. After I ate I massaged and iced my legs as much as I could and drank as much water as I could, trying to break up and flush out all this lactic acid that was making me so miserable. When I had to get up to walk, I could hardly move. It was all I could do to not just stomp around on my heels, but instead slowly and carefully walk normally. Stairs were nearly impossible. I wondered without trying to worry about when they'd be okay to run again. Right then I could hardly walk. Still, I wasn't worried - I hadn't injured myself. I might have slightly overdone it, but I think there are times when overdoing it is the best thing. It's not like I pulled a muscle or put myself at some greater risk, dramatic as this whole episode sounds and was. It will pass. My core temperature was weird all night. I was freezing but sweating. We took my temperature once and it was 99.8 or something, though I wasn't sick and didn't have a fever. It was 3 am or so before things finally returned to normal. I told Amy - we'll remember this night in September, when the title of Ironman is hopefully successfully rewarded. That this night was an important night. Hard as it was, and miserable as I was afterwards, everything I would have hoped for in my run came to be. I didn't slow down - each of my 30 minute "laps" was consistent with or faster than the last. I had a respectable pace while being comfortable. More importantly, I hurt. I hurt bad. I hurt so bad I wanted to quit, but I didn't. I hurt so bad there was no sense to keep going, but I did. There's tremendous value in that. I made a large deposit last night into my IM bank account, and it's earmarked for withdrawal in September.

Happily, my efforts last night I think paid off some, because I'm much better this morning. Still pretty tender, but nothing like last night. Today at some point (provided the walkways are plowed...couldn't be more sick of winter...) I might take a walk, and maybe swim later. Maybe I'll even be okay for a 3 mile run tomorrow. Hope so, anyway.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Fat Don't Fly

Just last week, really, my training and nutritional strategies collided in such a way that I began rapidly losing weight. I think probably I've not openly given enough emphasis to the importance of this factor in Ironman, particularly on a hilly course like Wisconsin's. Last year my race weight had me down to about 188, and this year I'd like to be below 180. Hell, around 170-175 would be great. But to balance the right nutrition intake to fuel all my distances and still lose weight takes some engineering. But it's critical that I do. The weight savings I'd gain would be worth more than the latest $3000 gizmo on my bike, and I'd be hauling that much less up hills and around Wisconsin for 140.6 miles. But that said, I'm not "on a diet". I'm incredibly thoughtful about what I eat, and when, and for what purpose. Weight loss in general naturally goes along with this kind of training, so I'm just trying to optimize the weight loss environment. But really, I don't think I eat any differently, or less, than a person just should in a healthy nutritional diet.

So as I said, the pounds started rapidly coming off last week, and then the weekend came. I had family and social commitments Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday that all required my eating at restaurants. There is simply no way to eat healthy at restaurants. Period. So on days when I know I'm going to, I try to go calorie deficit if possible, but that only goes so far. Even ordering light, or eating half, or whatever, it's still processed, and enriched, and loaded and cheesy or frozen or microwaved or whatever. But what's more interesting to me is how social eating is - I'm really aware of this right now. People don't like to eat if other people around them aren't eating, or aren't eating "enough". It makes them uncomfortable. Now, life is too short to count pounds, and I'm not paranoid or distraught or anything. And I do not regret the time spent around a meal with each of last week's dinners - they were with close friends and family, and the time and experiences were all important and valuable; they weren't random trips to Burger King or something. But this calls into greater focus the balance between sacrifice of my IM life, and my "real" life. If I turn down a dinner request, I risk alienating or offending people who are important to me, or at the least forgoing time spent with them. However, in having dinner, I nutritionally undo the 6 miles I ran this morning, or whatever, and in the long run (no pun intended) that will have potentially significant impact on my general IM training and process. More importantly, I sacrifice my discipline, and that's just not something I like to do.

There are smaller incidents, though, that represent the larger issues not just from my perspective, but I think from the perspective of how some people are seeing my approach to IM. I can't tell you how many times I've been invited or presented with some kind of sweet or something contrary to my nutritional agenda where, if I turn it down, or eat only one instead of 18, or whatever, I get these weird eye rolling looks. Not good natured ribbing or light sarcasm, but something genuinely irritated. What is that about? Why does it matter to you what I eat? Are you offended? Think I'm turning down your invitation to, what, get attention or something? It's absurd, and creates for situational conflict where there is no purpose. It frustrates me.

I need to create the same kind of discipline around my eating habits that I do with my training schedule. Specifically in eating at restaurants with family and friends. This means I may need to begin actively turning down dinner requests, or seeking other alternatives to spend that time with people. I need to realize that not everybody will understand that, and not take responsibility to accommodate or pacify that. Most of the people important to me get it. Those that don't, well, that's okay. There is a limit to what the people around me can and do understand with what I am trying to do, and how I am trying to do it. For some reason, once that limit is reached, it is often expressed by some kind of frustration from them. This is an amusing mystery, and I cannot understand it...why what I order for dinner or if I eat candy or if I drink soda is of any concern to anybody. I need to no longer feel self conscious about that. Think or feel however you want about my ice water. It cannot be important to me right now.

None of which is to imply that I'm somehow surrounded by people who don't get it. In fact, I couldn't be more impressed or blessed by the commitment of my team to participate, support, and enthusiastically acknowledge what I'm dong - as evidenced by your very presence here, right now. But there is occasional dissent, often from more peripheral people, that still, for some reason, strikes a nerve with me. I need to be stronger than that. All part of this process. In twenty years, I promise you, I will not remember the cheesecake I turned down.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

10 Miles Behind Me, and 10,000 More To Go...

10 miles yesterday - my last of my runs where speed over distance is a focus. From here on out, it's not about going fast anymore, but - say it with me - slowing down least. I'll always have speed work built into my workouts, but as far as a focus of increasing speed as real purpose of training and workouts, those days are now officially done. Now it's about going a long ways as consistently as possible. If I did this right, and continue to, my speed should continue to increase naturally, and without the efforts of "trying" to go fast.

The run went almost perfectly. I incorporated some new strategies: Taking in about 350 calories and some 55 grams of carbs about an hour before the run, which took me through the first 60 minutes. After that was a new concoction called InfinIT Nutrition, which is a mixed drink that was brewed up specifically for my nutritional needs (I plug in a bunch of data, and they shoot back some options, and I tweak it from there). I swig about 3 ounces of that every 10 minutes after the first hour (off the bike, I'll try and have a surplus of calories to keep this strategy consistent), and it should provide me all the nutrition I need, no sugary Gatorade (by the way, if you see a new Gatorade called "Rain", flavored Lime, don't believe it. It's really flavored Ass) or GU required. This created a few new variables that I've been incorporating into my training the last few workouts to work up to this, the most notable being that I no longer stop to drink, but drink on the run. That's new for me. It seemed to go okay.

The numbers (no longer indicating heart rate, because as long as I'm not past my AT, I'm doing okay)

Mile 1: 8:38
Mile 2: 8:36
Mile 3: 8:27
Mile 4: 8:32
Mile 5: 8:37
Mile 6: 8:32
mile 7: 8:34
Mile 8: 8:44
Mile 9: 8:47
Mile 10: 9:22

Total AVG: 8:41/mile

As you see, the first 7 miles were really consistent. Miles 8 and 9 were consistent with each other, but I start slowing down a bit. And Mile 10 was almost a blow out. I'm not sure why, really. I was working, and pretty hard, but I wasn't in really bad shape. I'd been near my AT since about mile 8, though, so it may have just been unsustainable. Anyway, as it is, I have to be pretty happy with the numbers. 8:35ish sustained for 7 miles, and 8:40ish sustainable for 10. Consider that I did the TC10 Mile in 2004, in peak race conditions, including taper, and having 6 weeks of dedicated training - not base training like this has been - and I struggled for a 8:58 pace, and the improvements here are significant and dramatic. In all, almost a 3:30 time gain from my TC10 time.

Consider further just this season's progress - a nearly 30 second pace improvement over the 9 mile run, 40 seconds over the 8 mile run. It's important to note that those runs included slow miles for drinking, throwing off the total time, but even so, the improvement is there. Consider even way back when I had my last 02 test in January, I finished those three miles in about an 8:30 pace, but well above my AT - I couldn't have sustained that pace even 4 miles back then. So things are coming along.

From now on, my long runs become exercises in discipline, where I stay back at a comfortable 9:15-9:30 pace - or slower if I like - unconcerned with how "fast" I can go, and trying to always finish my runs comfortable, like I could keep going if I wanted to. If I find I naturally have or build a bit more speed than that, then so be it, but no more is anything forced. I will have 4-7 miles runs here and there that are speed focused, and some short workouts that are dedicated to sprints, but now I focus a lot on improving my form and economy, staying sharp and focused for long periods, keeping my nutritional strategies in focus, and continuing to improve over long, slow distances. The Half Marathon is in little over a month, and IM specific training starts in about 2 weeks. Allegedly Spring approaches, and hopefully it won't be long until the Cold Gear goes back in the closet and Old Blue finally comes trampling out.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

IMWI Bike Course Recon...

I was able to finish my recon mission this past weekend in Madison - me and Grandpa wended and winded our way around rural Wisconsin, charting all things. I'm glad to have done it and have a sense for what comes where to keep in mind these next months as I get serious on the bike, and particularly when I can get back to Madison to train on the course. I did shoot video of everything, about 20 minutes long, but it's something like 800MB for me to put online, and that seems a little impractical - and I'm not entirely how useful it is anyway. But, if anybody feels like the video would be a useful part of this, or at least photos, let me know and I'll see what I can do and when I can do it.

Note - this is the '05 course - they haven't made any announcements yet to if or what they might be changing in '06. Probably useful too to go through this step by step with the IMWI maps provided by Ironman:

Course description

Course map

The course starts just off of Lake Monona, at Monona Terrace. This is, of course, where the swim ends. The first 6 miles or so are metropolitan - we start by heading Southeast on John Nolen Drive, which is a straight shot of about a mile.

Just after Lake Monona ends on John Nolen Drive, we jump off onto a bike path that will take us under John Nolen Drive. There was a series of asphalt trails here, so I couldn't gauge what was our path, but it looked pretty short. It exists on the opposite side of John Nolen Drive and connects to Sayle St., crossing a rail road. Sayle takes a sharp jog to the right, where Sayle becomes Van Deusen St. Another block or so take us to Colby, which then takes us another block or so to Olin Avenue. Once we get off of John Nolen Drive, I guess it's not more than 2 miles before we're out of the winding residential area and onto Olin Avenue, which is more of a thoroughfare.

Once on Olin, we turn almost immediately into the Alliant Energy Center parking lot - this entrance was blocked, so I wasn't able to get in and actually chart this route. It's a big complex, so somehow we maneuver around it to Rusk Avenue before getting onto Rimrock. Probably another 1 mile or so. I picked the course back up again coming off of Rusk and turning right onto Rimrock. This entire section of the race is flat, and I imagine full of people and spectators.

Rimrock overpasses the main highway around Madison, called The Beltline. This overpass manufactures a small hill to get up and over. Otherwise, Rimrock is flat and straight, and looks to be the first opportunity to really settle in and get organized on the bike. Rimrock is 2 miles or so, descending at the end to turn quickly left onto Oregon Road, then right onto McCoy Road, which then becomes Syene Road. At this point, rather abruptly, we're in countryside and have been on the bike for about 6 miles. Syene introduces some mostly unchallenging rolling hills, remarkable only because until now it's been mostly entirely flat.

2 miles on Syene and we'll turn right on Irish Lane for less than .5 miles, then onto Caine for less than a mile. Neither road is too remarkable. At around 9.5 - 10 miles into the bike we get onto Whalen Road, which is a long stretch of road that will take us further away from Madison, and get us to the looping point. This stretch is our doorway to and from the meat of the IMWI course.

Whalen Road is about 6 miles long, and is made up of long ascents and descents. The length, and not the grade of the ascents might be what presents any difficulty. I'll be careful not to underestimate the ascents on my way to the IM Loop, taking it really easy and saving my legs. The tail end of Whalen gets into residential Verona - people to welcome us from the trek from Madison!

Whalen turns right onto County Route M, which continues about a mile or a little more before turning left onto Locust, then Right onto Bruce, and finally left onto Route 69. Our time on Locust and Bruce is just a few city blocks.

Route 69 (Paoli) is a wide highway, leaving the residential area of Verona. We'll be on it about .5 miles - at this point around 18 miles into the race. We go underneath highway 18/151, and turn right onto Valley Road.

Valley Road starts off right away with a climb that, racing the same road last year at the Wisconsin Triterium, I remember not being much fun. Again, I'll be working hard to save my legs (a bit oxymoronic, that statement...). Valley Road in general is the first significantly hilly part of the course. Valley Road is about 1 mile, and climbs uphill at the end before turning right onto Sugar River Road. Sugar River Road continues this uphill climb, so with the slow of the climb and the turn, this might be a bit of a challenging intersection.

Sugar River Road is about 1 mile, and is mostly downhill, making up for the climb up Valley Road. However, it's a pretty windy road with some sharp turns, so I think I'll be riding my brakes quite a bit on the downhill - and will have to work turns and curves into my training wherever I can, because the course if full of them.

About 20 miles into the race we turn off of Sugar River Road, right onto Marsh View Road. Marsh View Road is about .5 unremarkable miles before jumping left onto Cty. Route G, which finally affords another opportunity to stop thinking and just pedal.

Cty G. starts out with a fast, long descent - about .5 miles or more. After that it's about 4 miles of rolling hills, some long and slow, some shorter and a bit more steep. This could be a challenging stretch before descending the last .5 miles or so, turning right onto Route 92.

Route 92 starts off of the turnoff with an immediate climb - so again, slowing down to make the turn and heading right into an ascent will slow things down a bit - and quash the momentum from coming down at the end of Cty. G. Route 92 is about 5 miles long, and about 2 miles into it - about mile 27 of the course - there's the most significant climb on this stretch. Otherwise it's a pretty rolling stretch, but not as hilly at Cty. G. was. Mostly on this stretch, whatever we ascend is equaled on the other side in the descent. The last mile or so - starting at around mile 30 of the race - starts a slow climb into the town of Mt. Horeb, where we'll turn right onto 8th street.

8th street is a short residential road, mostly insignificant. It turns right onto County Route S, which is a new road, so it's nicely surfaced. Cty. S. is about a mile, mostly flat.

Turning left onto Witte, about 33 miles or so into the race, and this road immediately falls onto a long descent, which leads back to a long ascent. This road is about 1.5 miles, and is the hilliest road yet, with lots of short, quick hills, some a bit steep. At this stage in the course, this road starts a challenging section. There's another long ascent at the end of Witte, taking us to a right turn onto County Route J.

Cty Route J is short, but continues the same terrain as Witte steep up and downs. It will be a challenge here to keep fresh legs throughout.

Turning left onto Garfoot at about 35 miles into the race, the terrain continues. There's a decent right away, then a long ascent for the rest of the mile or so of Garfoot before it jogs off left onto Mineral Point Road.

Mineral Point Road is maybe .10 of a mile or so, downhill, before turning right onto Garfoot's continuation. Garfoot on this stretch is mostly downhill, and essentially the worst climbing of the loop is behind you. There are a few short climbs on this stretch, and it's really winding, but it's mostly downhill or level ground for about 4 miles before turning right onto County Route K-P (which, incidentally, is marked by an amusing sign that's hidden immediately - like, inches away - behind a stop sign).

Cty. K-P is maybe 1.5 miles long, and takes us into the town of Crosspoint Plains. Turning right onto Bourbon Road, which is a wide street, it's a short jog until we turn right again, heading south now on County Route P. At this point we're probably 41 miles or so into the race.

Cty. P is flat and fast for about a mile or a little more before we turn left onto Stagecoach Road. Stagecoach is about 1.5 miles long, again flat and fast, and then we turn right onto North Birth Trail.

North Birch Trail remains pretty flat for about a mile, when it becomes Old Sauk Pass after a sharp turn left (that's kind of blind and appears on the outset that you're actually pulling into a farmstead or something.)

Old Sauk Pass is mostly flat and very windy, on a pretty narrow road. There's a long climb at about mile 46 of the race that's about .5 - .75 miles long, and winding. The first challenging hill we've seen in more than 10 miles, however.

Old Sauk Pass Road gets hillier as it continues, before turning hard right at about 49 miles in, where it becomes Timber Lane. Timber Lane has an initial long climb before leveling out again into a residential area of. The terrain on the last half of Old Sauk Pass and into the first part of Timber Lane is similar to some of the long, slow climbs that we first see in the race on Syene and Whalen. Timber Lane is also the first road that wasn't in pretty great shape during the race. After the initial mile or so Timber Lane flattens out pretty well again.

Timber Lane is about 5 miles long or a little less, and the last section is pretty much downhill, making for a fast descent before turning left onto Midtown Road. However, it is pretty windy with some signifcant hard turns.

Turning left onto Midtown Road, we again have a mostly unremarkable climb right away. Midtown is a short road with some really substantial houses (estates) on our left, before turning right onto Shady Oak Lane.

Shady Oak Lane is about a 2.5 mile stretch, and windy - like the rest of the short sections of the course - but downhill or flat.

Turning right off of Shady Oak Lane, we turn left onto Cty PD at around 54 miles or so into the race. Cty PD is a mostly unremarkable 1/3 mile before turning right onto North Nine Mound Road.

North Nine Mound Road is about .5 miles or so, flat and fast. It brings us back into the city of Verona, where our loop originates. It turns left onto Cross Country Road.

Cross Country Road is about a mile long, in residential Verona. The road is in good shape and is flat. We'll turn right off of it, onto County Route M, which is also Main Street Verona.

Less than a mile on Main Street brings us to the intersection of Main Street and Verona Ave - we're just up the road from Locust Ave, which is very close to where our loop starts. This will be a packed intersection as it's in the business district of Verona, and is a great stretch for friends and family and spectators.

Turning left on Verona Avenue at about 56 miles into the race or so, Verona Avenue opens up into a less residential road after about .5 miles or so. We'll turn right onto Old Hwy PB. Less than an unremarkable mile on PB and we'll intersect Whalen - turn to the right to repeat the lap, or turn left to head back into Madison, essentially going back exactly the way we came.

Some overall thoughts:

The hilliness of the course is hard to judge in the car - what doesn't seem like a difficult climb in a car can be tough on the bike. Still, it's that 5 mile section from Witte to the end of Garfoot Part 1 that presents the most serious climbs on the course.

That said, the whole course is hilly, but there are some long stretches of relief. As my Grandpa said - "there are lots of descending hills on the course. Too bad you have to climb to get to 'em!"

The course is as winding as it is hilly, maybe more. There are spots where navigating the curves is going to slow a person down as much as climbing hills might. The rider who practices curvy descents and keeping speed through turns will have advantages.

It's going to be a really, really beautiful ride. Have to remember to lift my head up and take it in to enjoy it!

Sunday, March 05, 2006


I was listening to a series of endurance sports and triathlon podcasts on my way home from Madison, and one woman was talking about how this year she'll be doing a half-marathon and training for a half-Ironman race in July. The podcast series is just dedicated to triathlon and triathlete life rather than weekly interviews with pros or elites or whatever, so its interview subjects always come from many different and diverse backgrounds. Anyway, keeping in mind my hysterically elaborate training schedule and absurdly scientific perspective on the slightest nuances of all things triathlon (which, as we've established, is part of my enjoyment - I'm a complicated thinker, and so be it), I enjoyed this woman's perspective - she's the mom of two small daughters, and she runs 3 times a week - 1 long run - rides 3 times a week - 1 long ride - and swims really once a week. Except for her long run, she runs with one of those running strollers and 100 pounds of toddler attached to her. Except for her long ride, she rides with one of those kid-trailers behind her and she said her daughters count the ducks around the lake as she rides. She joked that it's great resistance training, and when she finally rides or runs without the added weight she feels like she's flying. She goes swimming on weekends, when her family goes along, and for the first hour or so her husband takes the girls in the "play" pool while she swims laps, and then she joins them. Her purpose for getting into triathlon - she emphasized that she began with a real hatred for running - was to get into shape after the birth of her second daughter, and also to demonstrate positive behavior and modeling for her daughters.

What a useful and inspiring way into triathlon, and what a healthy perspective. I admit - I am here, putting myself through this Ironman thing - because - appropriate metaphor - I am running away from much, and running towards much. Somehow this process is for me a proving grounds, and a purging, and a refinement as much as it is a purpose and a process. Any suffering, struggle, or sacrifice is a welcome change to the years spent in a sort of haunted ether. And I've often thought, to do Ironman or any other kind of ultra-endurance event, you have to be a little mad. Seriously. You have to have a complex about something. You have to have something inside yourself that isn't at rest. How else explain this? True: why climb Everest? "Because it was there." But why YOU? Why NOW? Why THIS? For each of us that's ever chosen to put one foot in front of the other in competition, the answer is different. I do this in honor and in memorium. I flee ghosts. I endeavor as fast as I can around the next corner because I run to those that wait for me. I acknowledge that there are dark edges around my purposes here. Not sinister in any way, but colored by the same greys and crimsons that are, in the midst of all the beautiful and bright hues in the Painting Of My Life, still the primary shades to me. I embrace this. This is how I exercise, and this is how I exorcise. And in general, I'm of a belief that I share this bond with many, if not most, endurance athletes. I don't speak of the professionals, who obviously have money to make and legacies to leave with their performances (yet whose personal reasons are still rich and complicated and admirable - see Lance Armstrong), or of the weekend warriors who sign up for the local 5k or even trains for a marathon to lose a few pounds, whose intentions are pure and probably temporary and that's perfectly applaudable. I'm talking about the people who will never have their names called to the podium, and who races first to outrun himself - literally and metaphorically, gauging success only against past successes and failures. I'm talking also about the people who race to qualify for Kona, or the Boston Marathon, or whatever. Because while their motivation is to qualify, their motivation for that motivation is something else, and I relate to that - there are no dollars, not shoe contracts, no endorsements on the other side of that qualification. Just you, alone again on the road, racing for something only you understand. I speak of those who, with bleeding feet and barely able to walk, will sign up to do it again. Who will hear the timbre of one cheering voice in ten thousand because THAT voice belongs to the most important person in the world. We each have reasons for being here, and I simply think this is all too much for those reasons to be singular and unremarkable.

I don't mean to complicate what is, plainly, a simple thing: swimming, biking, running - it's not brain surgery, and most of us know how to do all of them by the time we're 7 years old. Nor do I want to add undue gravitas to what is, after all, just a game. I know that. I've not totally lost perspective here. I also acknowledge that, as I tend to wax philosophical about this stuff I risk seeming pretentious in some way. I'll choose unconcern. It was joyful for me to hear this unassuming woman and her unassuming reasons that were, by nature, unclouded. That seemed right. Her reasons for being here seemed heroic to me. Her way of doing it seemed complete, and appropriate, and right. Her family was part of her training. Part of her routine. Part of her reasons. In clear, tangible ways that are unlike my own complicated reasons. I liked that. Admired it. And it got me, for whatever reason, thinking about Todd's always lovable self deprecating remarks on the blog this week, alluding to how "insignificant" his Sprint triathlons are compared to Ironman (his allusions - his illusions - not mine). Which isn't to say Todd's intentional humor was lost on me or that I interpreted him differently than he intended or whatever. Just - his comments came to mind. And I remembered how I felt after my very first triathlon only 2 years ago - when I said out loud "I am a triathlete", and how fun that was, and is. And how Todd's doing this thing now, for his reasons, for whatever reasons they are for him, or whatever reasons they turn out to be. His real reasons. He joked that he wanted to kick some friends asses. Probably only a half joke. But his reasons BEHIND those reasons - those are his, and that is why he races, among a million others. And it just got me thinking: you know, you could do this. I mean you. YOU, as in you reading this right now. Except for the injured or infirm or incapable, and I know Patric and Amy that these things are not realities for you just now (and so do you see how I do them on your behalf? As Iris did, at the end of her marathon when she thought of Amy? Do you see these connections, like so many firing synapses that seem, like my reasons, to be so unrelated and unspecific but in the end TOGETHER move the muscle?), but there is nothing more magical or monumental about my 146.1 miles compared to Todd's 28 miles. The distance is a false indicator, you see? What's important is that this is what I choose to do to respond to the reasons that I have for doing it. As Todd has his reasons for doing his. Case in point: In the summer of '04 I raced a short Sprint triathlon that took me something like and hour and 37 minutes or something to finish. It was a combined 29 mile course or something. And after the race we stuck around, and an hour and a half later, coming in at over 3 hours since the race started, was the very last racer on the course. And she was a very large woman who was struggling significantly through the finish line shoot, and her family was there cheering her on, all wearing bright orange shirts with her name on them, and as she approached the finish line her kids - 4 or 5 of them I think - all came out and held hands with her as they crossed the finish line. For me it was a short training race on the way to a larger, more significant race that season. But for her and her family, who knows what it took to get her here? What efforts and changes in her lifestyle she'd made, what sacrifices she endured, what reasons she had. Or in the same race, the elderly man that crossed the finish line to have his small grand-daughter come running and leaping up into his arms and kiss him on the cheek, probably hardly aware of what was really happening, but so clearly evident on the man's face that THIS is the prize he was racing towards these last hours. It's all relative, you see? My course, my reasons, they've taken me down this path, and it's mine to tread, however I will. For Todd, his reasons, however simple or complex, they've led him to his race in July. Maybe it's his first of many, maybe it's his last in his life, but it's HIS, for whatever it is. For this woman on the podcast, it was more about her daughters than herself. Whatever the distance, whatever the reasons, I count myself only as one among many who are themselves one among many, and each of us has a universe around us responsible for getting us first to the starting gun, and then to the finish line.

A Veritable Buffet of Meandering Thoughts...

Well, it's Sunday afternoon, I'm back from Madison early to avoid some foolish ice storm, it's a rest day, so a good time to catch up on the blog.

It's been a good week - something like 30 miles or so total. 5 miles yesterday in Wisconsin, which is a whole different thing with all the hills. The heart rate really climbs as I climb hills, and then try and loosely control momentum when I come down. Makes for some weird training analysis - it's hard to actually get a pace since it seems all I'm doing is climbing or falling. But that's okay - it's a great workout in itself. The IMWI running course itself isn't that hilly, so these are just opportunities to do something new and useful on terrain that I'm not normally around. Good.

I'm starting to wind down my base training, and specifically my limiter training that I've been doing the last few months with nothing but run-specific training. In the next few weeks my mileage will peak at 12 for the long run, and then finally the half-marathon on April 15th. Starting March 27th I start IM specific training (check the training log to that date and you'll see what's in store). I'm excited and impatient to get underway, but know that it's in my best interests to wait, and remain disciplined to the grand plan. Once the IM training starts it'll be all about time, rather than distance - my workouts will be gauged in terms of how long I go, rather than how far, or how fast. I've been extremely satisfied with the results from the work put in on the run during these last 3 months of training, and hopefully all the pushing to achieve faster and faster pace times will have established an endurance base that will help me - say it with me - slow down least. I'm looking forward to race season - the half marathon on the 15th to some extent, but more to the first tiny little tri in May, and really the half IM in June, which will be the first real test of where I am and what I've put in the bank so far.

Presently it's raining. On top of the snow. Must be approaching springtime in Minnesota.

The last few weeks I've been particularly attentive to my run form and my nutrition strategies. There are ten thousand theories and opinions on running form, and what's most efficient and least efficient, and what's best and isn't, etc. etc. In some ways it's a new conversation - until recently people have mostly thought that each of us develops, naturally, the most efficient running-form for ourselves, and that trying to alter that natural form isn't very productive. While there is great truth in that each of us develops our own running form, I don't agree that it's inherently most productive - or at least, that my "natural" running form is most productive for me. Generally, the most essential thing one can do to improve his running and run-time is improve his economy - attend to the physiological aspects of running, and be mindful of how the body is working through it. Consider: the image most of us have of a runner's form involves launching a foot out in front of the body and connecting it with the ground, while the opposite foot pushes away from the ground behind the body, and thus is thrust forward in front of the body. In fact, this is pretty inefficient. You might also, if you go running or watch people run, see them bounce along, their arms kind of windmilling as they almost hop off of their back foot. Again, inefficient. Two years ago my running form was some kind of hybrid of these. Where did that form come from? Who knows? When one just goes out and runs, totally unconscious of their body and form, I suppose that's the "natural" form - though after these last few years of being very intentional about my form, it's totally awkward now to resume that old, "natural" form. I of course speak in terms of distance running, and specifically triathlon (where you're adjusting from getting off the bike, though the principles are hardly changed between the two if considered separate discliplines), but in fact, a very economical example of running is a toddler just learning to run. You know how one can look like she's about to fall right over, and if her cadence of her legs can't keep up with her momentum she can literally topple over on her face? That's actually sort of what I'm trying to accomplish with my run form. You want your lead foot to plant more directly underneath the body, and not throw it out in front of you - this absorbs most impact on the whole of the foot rather than just the heel-strike if the absorbing foot is too far forward. A shorter cadence, rather than long strides, actually utilizes the muscles better - which in appearance is interesting, because you actually look more like you're shuffling, or that your legs must be tired, or something. Finally, almost everyone uses their calf muscles to push off with their rear foot, rather than the larger, stronger thigh muscles, hamstrings, and hip flexors. If you use these larger muscles you'll be pushing off stronger, and won't fatigue as quickly. Put all this together and then - lean just a bit forward. Feel yourself at vertical, and adjust only a bit forward - you'll feel it. The result is, essentially, a controlled fall. And in that you allow momentum and gravity to work for you, rather than against you. You naturally avoid bouncing and hopping, which just wastes energy. And the best part is, if you get it all right, you go faster without working any harder. Just working differently. Smarter, as it is. There are lots of variations of this general principle - the Pose Method and Evolution Running are two ways of running that take the principles further (go ahead and Google each if you're aching for some fun reading). So lately I've been researching all of this and trying to fine tune my form - specifically concentrating on using those larger leg muscles more than my calves. It is not, at first, natural. But with muscle-memory it becomes more and more natural. I continue working on it, but I do attribute much of my improvement on the run so far to being attentive to form. It remains to be seen if I can sustain that kind of form for 26 miles off a bike.

The other focus area has been nutrition. I'm convinced that my three meltdowns last year on the run - Lifetime, Square Lake Half IM and the Twin Cities Marathon - were significantly influenced by unsound nutritional strategies. In addition, 2 of the 3 races were REALLY hot days, and while I felt (especially during the Half IM) that all I did was drink (at least 8 oz. Gatorade each mile), I was dehydrated after the race. Heat and dehydration act to speed up fatigue, and I need to be better prepared for both this season. This is such a mad science that can only be tested to limited extents in training - the real lab is on the race course, and that is, unfortunately, not an ideal environment for trial and error. So my research on this lately has been elaborate, and hopefully fruitful. First, I've addressed what appears to NOT be working: A reliance solely on GU gels and Gatorade. I can point to some tangibles, and there are some unknowns why this isn't working for me when it does work for many. One is a caloric deficit - the human body can efficiently take in about 30% of what it expends in an hour (give or take, but if you try and take in more than that it's stored as fat - if you're sedentary - or utterly and colorfully outright rejected, if you're, say, 123 miles into a 146.1 mile race). Depending on my race day weight and pace, I'll burn anywhere from 800-1000 calories/hour. I should then be taking in a third of those calories hourly - so, say, between 250 and 330. I've established (I think) that I require on the high side of that, so between 300 and 330. On paper, 32 oz of Gatorade and hour and 1 GU gel an hour should yield me 300 calories and 85g of carbs, which should be about perfect. And if all I were doing was running, maybe it would be. But it's not, and I have a few theories why. One is, GU works most efficiently with 8 oz or so of water just after taking it, and it's hard for me to work in both Gatorade, water, and GU during a fuel station. I need to do a better job of that, or look for alternatives. Another is, I need somewhere in the neighborhood of 600g of sodium/hour - basically, electrolytes. With 32 oz of Gatorade/hour and a GU, I'm only getting about 480g or so. So I need to find some electrolytes somewhere, especially on hot days. Third is the screwball in the group, and that is that I have some kind of blood sugar thing happening. It's why I need a Snickers halfway through a pickup basketball game. It's not hypoglycemia or diabetes, but somewhere in there is a real sensitivity to blood sugar levels. I'm not sure where or how this impacts me, but I suspect I need higher glycemic carbohydrates or something.

However, I think most of my problems are coming from the bike. It makes sense to me that I could function off of Gatorade and GU on the run - although the longer I go, the more distasteful Gatorade will become, and I need to prepare for that. The Marathon Meltdown is a limited example because I wasn't prepared for that race to any extent to being with, so I don't know where nutritional issues came to play versus physical or physiological issues. But thinking of the bike: it's a really complicated formula, but I need closer to 350 calories/hour on the bike - just to maintain the bike calorie expenditure. All last season I basically took in 300 calories/hour. This A - taxed my system on the bike, since I wasn't getting enough calories - say 75 calories short at Lifetime or closer to 225 or so at the Half IM, and B - because I wasn't surplussing calories on the bike, I started the run deficit and was always playing catch up. Since the physiological demands on the bike are much less intense than on the run, the bike is where I should be storing up calories to expend on the run. So if instead of 300 calories/hour, which isn't even getting me satisfied just on the bike, I should instead aim for a surplus of calories for the run - the amount of surplus proportional to the distance of the race. In the case of a Half IM or longer race, where I'm on the bike for, say, 3.5 hours - 7 hours, I should probably have at least a 300 calorie surplus going into the run. Even in shorter races, if I can adequately overstock on the bike I'll require less of my system on the run, which if left unchecked will inevitably reveal itself in the latter half of the run.

Honestly, who out there is still reading this babble?!?!

So anyway, that's where I am in that, and I am trying now to build strategies for it. I can't really apply anything yet with all this run-specific training, but I'm making my plans. I will, as I know you're hanging off the edge of your seat, keep you apprised.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

If 9 Miles Don't Change...

Up to 9 miles now - I intended to run them on Sunday in Madison, but alas the Hyundai gods had other plans and, with a hobbled Santa Fe struck infirm while in Madison and so in repair, I drove home my uncle's REALLY BIG Lincoln. That's the bad news, the good news is another trip to Madison this weekend, where I can conclude my bike course recon and maybe get Ol' Blue in to Cronometro for his annual exam.

I've had, the last 10 days, some frustration in life's interferences of my training schedule, so I've had some real inconsistency. At this point in the season - base training - that kind of inconsistency isn't going to totally derail the system, and I read from some triathlon Jedi along the way that's it's better to be 10% undertrained than 1% overtrained - overtraining leading to injury, fatique, exhaustion and boredom. So, like my Ironman efforts in general, I have to take it as it comes.

That said, I was a little concerned about my 9 mile run, wondering if the lack of consistency in the week previous would affect my efforts. I think they did, but not as much as I might have thought, and I was able to stay on task and on pace during the 9 mile.

Remember from my previous analysis after the 10k "race" that I intended to bump my distance-training pace to around 9:15/min. So, that's what I set out to do. I had some small consistency problems during the run - my body kept wanting to go faster, so I'd have to pull back on the reins. This is a good indication, but it's important that I stay disciplined to the goals in mind - so I'd find myself a bit erratically hovering between 8:30 and 9:30ish pace, and then I'd try and hit a sweet spot of around 9:08 or so. This is where my inconsistent training the week before presented itself, I think - I just had trouble dialing in and staying there. So, my first mile was an 8:48 pace, which is almost 30 seconds faster than I intended, so I tried to pull back after that. 8:48 isn't unsustainable at all, but it wasn't on the day's agenda.

But, after my second mile of under 9:00 pace, I decided to just go with it. I wasn't uncomfortable at all, so I just let the run dictate the pace - something I should probably do more of. I've also been intensively analyzing my nutritional strategies over the last week (more on that later), and so I tried something else on this run - drinking every 3rd mile instead of every other. This changed my body's rest intervals, obviously, but also required different nutritional demands than I'm really used to. It all played out better than I thought.

My mileage broke down like this:
Mile 1 - 8:48/mile pace - HR 136 (notice how LOW that HR is for that pace!)
Mile 2 - 8:59/mile pace - HR 155
Mile 3 - 8:41/mile pace - HR 163
Mile 4(drink) - 9:54/mile pace - HR 158
Mile 5 - 8:46/mile pace - HR 167
Mile 6 - 8:46/mile pace - HR 171 (check the consistency on miles 5 and 6...)
Mile 7(drink) -10:04/mile pace - HR 163
Mile 8 - 9:02/mile pace - HR 170
Mile 9 - 9:00/mile pace - HR 172

TOTAL AVG: 9:08/mile pace - HR 161

So, things considered: A little sporatic with the pacing, particularly with how fast I suddenly got on mile 3. My fastest and slowest miles are 20 seconds apart which, the longer I get in distances the less significant that short of an interval becomes, but I still want to target more consistency than that. It's also clear how I started to fade on mile 8 and 9, and my HR started to climb (I think my AT right now is probably around 172, so I was pushing it in mile 9). That says to me that, had I continued at this kind of pacing another 3 miles, I probably would have gone anaerobic and wouldn't have been able to sustain this. Which is okay - the purpose of the 9 mile run is to be better prepared for the 10 mile, and the 11, and so on. Still, I was actually pleasantly surprised - 9:08 average is better than the 9:15 I was aiming for, and I continue to be really happy with where I am right now.

What I was lacking those 10 days of inconsistency, however, were my mid-range, easy runs. 3 and 4 and 5 miles with some speed intervals here and there, but mostly just slow and steady, concentrating on form and building endurance. It's not healthy or ultimately beneficial to miss those, only to hit the "major" training workouts where speed checks are involved. So I'll look forward to that this week, attending to more long, slow workouts with no regard for how fast I'm going, or comparing mile pacings, etc.

This is also my last week of base training and run-centric training. Next week I begin 24 weeks of Ironman specific training, and everything changes then. I'll move my long runs to Wednesdays now, giving me enough time to recover for my long rides, typically on Sundays. So I'll push my 10 mile run out to next Wednesday, and will continue to focus on this kind of mileage in my run training while my swim and bike training catch up. Then, after the April 15th half marathon, I'll go specifically to IM training across the board, having hoped that my early season training on this limiter (limiter = weakness, which is what running has been for me) will pay off. Exciting times.